Monday, January 28, 2013

Remembering Challenger

Twenty-seven years ago today, the space shuttle, Challenger, took off from its dock in Florida.

Seventy-three seconds into its voyage, it exploded.

I was 23 years old at the time. I remember I was driving down Interstate 581 on my way to my part-time job after taking a class at Virginia Western Community College. I was listening to the radio report of the launch of Challenger, a space shuttle which would be taking a teacher into space.

I nearly wrecked the car when I heard the horror in the radio announcer's voice as he cried, "It's breaking up, it's breaking up! Oh my God!"

I cried so hard I could hardly make it into the office. No one else there seemed to share my horror and dismay, but I remember it as well as I do any other national tragedy.

You can watch two minutes of CNN footage here; the news media missed it a bit by not realizing that something terrible had happened. Of course, I have hindsight on my side: I know when I see the explosion what exactly has happened. As the NASA spokesperson says, "obviously there was a major malfunction."

This explosion and loss of a space shuttle was particularly hard on the nation because Christa McAuliffe, the first teacher in space, was on board. Lots of children were watching when Challenger suddenly burst into a ball of smoke and flame. All seven on board perished.

I have long been a fan of the space program and an admirer of people who would put their life on the line so that we might venture out into the great unknown. The space program, now defunded and derided by those who eschew knowledge and education in favor of fiscal prudence and safety, gave mankind many great innovations.

It also fostered hopes and dreams, and gave humanity a sense of purpose as exploration and accomplishments took place time and time again. If we could go into space, we could do anything. Space exploration was a tremendous step forward and an example of what we could accomplish when we worked together toward a common goal.

It was a glorious time in our history, even when bad things such as the Challenger explosion occurred.

I salute all of those heroes who set off in search of something more than themselves.


  1. I remember it well. I was working at Walt Disney World's Epcot Center and standing outside watching it with fellow co-workers. When we saw the huge ball of flame we all sent silent and knew something tragic had just happened. We ran back inside to find out if our eyes had deceived us. Unfortunately, they had not.

    It's hard to believe that it's been that long ago. I, too, loved the space program as my Dad spent many years working at the space center.

  2. I was in high school when this happened. End of English class, waiting for the bell to ring. One of the asst. principals came on the loud speaker to annnounce it to the school and had difficulty getting it out. We had just been given an assignment to write informative speeches, and in that instant I had my topic--space disasters. I was never a strong speaker, but believe I actually earned an 'A' on that one.

  3. i remember watching it on the news in disbelief and still thinking everyone inside would be ok. i was newly married. my husband in the marine corps. we drove down to my moms from our new home in 29 palms, ca (marine corps base)for a couple of days and was just heading out the door when it came on the news. some things you just remember like it was yesterday.

    ps: i knew that about you and godwin cemetery. i was researching it a bit for my post and came upon one of your postings and how there is a resting place waiting for you there, in the LONG LONG future!

  4. Yes, it was one of those things that imprints itself on your memory. I was walking past a shop and they had the TV on with the sound turned up. I heard a snippet of the report and went inside the store and watched the replay of the footage. So shocking, so sad! I recall that the school teacher's parents were watching the launch at the Cape. How awful!

  5. Lovely. When I was feeding the outside critters early this morning, I saw it. I didn't have a camera with me but figured you'd take some pictures!

  6. lovely tribute.

    I was still in school and kids were pulled out of their classes for an assembly to watch it by crying teachers. It was the first I noticed that there was a space program still.


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